Paddling the Bay of Fundy

August-September 2005

This is an article from WaveLength Magazine, available in print in North America and globally on the web.
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Story, Doug Scott
Photos, Malcolm Brett

kayakers and fishing weir
Fishing weirs are commonly used to catch shad, herring, cod and mackerel.

As I stand on the beach at low tide at St. Martins, New Brunswick, it’s hard to believe that in another six hours this spot will be under more than six meters of water. But that is typical on the Bay of Fundy where the tides are the highest in the world.

The Bay of Fundy is a 290 kilometer long funnel-shaped bay separating New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Its shape amplifies the normally one meter tidal range of the Atlantic Ocean from 3.5 meters at the mouth of the bay to up to 16 meters at the head of the bay. In fact over 100 billion tonnes of water flows into and out of the Bay of Fundy with every tide change, about the same amount as the combined flow of all the freshwater rivers in the world.

However, the tides are only one reason why the Bay of Fundy is such a unique sea kayaking destination. With a total of over 1700 kilometers of coastline on the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia sides, the Bay of Fundy offers paddlers a wide range of sea kayaking experiences, from trips of several days duration in very isolated areas to excursions of a day or less from thriving historical towns or quaint fishing villages.

hole in the wal grand manan island
Hole in the Wall on Grand Manan Island.

For the naturalist, the Bay of Fundy offers kayakers the chance to view sea life up close. The large tidal flow of water forces the deep, nutrient rich water to the surface, attracting large populations of seals, porpoises and whales here to feed. The Bay of Fundy is undoubtedly one of the best places in the world to view the protected North Atlantic Right Whale of which there are only about 300 left in existence. These large, slow swimming whales migrate to the Bay of Fundy each summer to feed, mate and raise their young. The Right Whale is one of the eight species of whales found in the Bay. For the same reasons that sea mammals are attracted here, so are sea birds. This is a great area to view bald eagles and blue herons.

For those wishing to combine some history with their paddling, then Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada’s oldest incorporated city, is an ideal location. Kayakers would be particularly interested in Partridge Island. A rocky island of 10 hectares situated one kilometer from the city’s harbor, it is one of the most history- steeped places in Canada. In 1785 Partridge Island became one of the first quarantine stations in North America, processing thousands of immigrants before they moved on to make new lives for themselves throughout the continent. This was also the site of the world’s first steam powered fog horn, an invention that has saved the lives of countless mariners since its development in 1859. The island also has a long military history. First fortified in the war of 1812, it has been manned for every major conflict since, including the Fenian raids of 1866 and both World Wars. Partridge Island is a provincial and national historic site and is a short paddle from the Irving Nature Park on the city’s west side.

Kayaking along the Fundy
Footpath, a challenging 40
km hike along the coast.
The caves at St. Martins
are accessible by foot
during low tide.
New Brunswick Bay of Fundy
A finback, the most commonly seen baleen whale in the Bay.

At the mouth of the Bay lie the Fundy Isles, a group of rugged and very scenic islands dotted with picturesque fishing villages. The Isles are a great destination to experience legendary Maritime hospitality while paddling among beautiful surroundings.

Sea kayakers looking to get away from it all for a few days would appreciate the paddle from Alma to St. Martins, New Brunswick. This trip passes through Fundy National Park before paralleling the grueling Fundy Footpath hiking trail. What now appears to be pristine wilderness, 150 years ago was home to a thriving lumber industry. This trip, along an isolated part of New Brunswick, passes by long, rocky beaches interspersed between imposing cliffs.

The Bay of Fundy, like all ocean kayaking destinations, has inherent dangers. There are also some additional concerns when paddling here. Because of the large flows of tidal water, the Bay’s temperature never gets a chance to warm up, fluctuating between four to six degrees Celsius, meaning hypothermia is a real danger, even in the middle of summer. The large tidal swings also result in some strong currents and rips that come and go with the tides. Paddling with a guide who is experienced in the idiosyncrasies of the Bay of Fundy is advised.

The Bay of Fundy is truly one of the marine Wonders of the World and the best way to fully appreciate all it has to offer is in a kayak, whether it is an extended sea kayaking excursion far from civilization or a short day trip from a picturesque town or village.

© Doug Scott teaches Mechanical Engineering Technology at the New Brunswick Community College in Saint John, New Brunswick and spends as much time as he can paddling on the Bay of Fundy with friends and family.